No matter how intensely we human beings think about time, the Earth rotates on its axis in the same twenty-four hour cycle. Yet time is all about our perception of it, and far too frequently we view it as a scarce commodity. Time scarcity thinking is just as detrimental to our health and wellbeing as financial scarcity thinking, maybe even worse. Yet, in our stressful world it is so easy to feel like that planetary rotation has indeed accelerated. Feeling behind in our work, overwhelmed by our responsibilities and our to-do list, it often feels that we are indeed in a “time famine”. The perception of a time famine (as researchers have actually begun to call it) drives stress and dissatisfaction with life. We attempt to adapt by overscheduling ourselves, downloading productivity apps, making endless lists, and rushing from one thing to another, usually without scheduling enough time for the transit in between. No matter how hard we work, or how hard we work at “managing” time, we simply cannot conjure more minutes in the day.
The clients of the wellness coach, like many of us, experiment in ways that negatively impact health. We cut down on the hours of sleep, sometimes following the advice of so-called motivational speakers and celebrities who have “made it”. The harsh reality message of science, however shows us that getting less than our eight hours of shut-eye increases our risk of all the major chronic illnesses. (http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-and-disease-risk) We cut down on time with family and friends leading to a real deficit in getting many of our emotional needs met and straining the most important relationships in our lives. We cut down on the time we spend cooking healthy meals, exercising, etc. The experiments buy us some minutes here and there, but in addition to what we lose in quality of life, we often don’t feel any more satisfied with the abundance of time in our lives.
My blog post “Stress Coaching Part I: A False Sense Of Urgency” (http://wp.me/pUi2y-e9) spoke of how we can individually or collectively (like in the workplace or family) drive anxiety and even panic through creating a sense of urgency that is not in line with the reality of the situation. A frantic sense of urgency driven by anxiety and fear, sets us all up for unhealthy levels of stress and severely diminished quality of life. That post looked at how we create such perceptions and at ways to distinguish between true urgency and false urgency, and between urgency and emergency. We also explored how to concretely coach around this issue.
Coaches often serve their clients very well by helping them to improve their experience of time by assisting them with organization. I’ve often been surprised by how often my stressed-out client operates a complicated life with no written calendar and no simple “to do” list! “Time management” strategies can help, but usually only go so far. What else is really at play here?
Feeling like we are not in control of our time, especially in the workplace is actually a huge health risk. A UK study of over 10,000 employees found that those who were in situations where they were at the command of others as to when to work and when to take breaks were three times more likely to call in sick, and had a mortality rate three times higher than others the same age.
“Take Back Your Time” activists argue that the more control we feel over our moment-by-moment schedule, the greater our sense of time spaciousness, or time affluence. Tim Kasser, the researcher credited with coining this term, recently published the results of four empirical studies documenting its positive impacts. It not only relieves stress; it also improves physical health and leads to greater civic involvement, more positive ecological behavior, and increased well-being, including job and family satisfaction—all at rates significantly higher than increasing material affluence.” (http://www.iftf.org/uploads/media/SR1378_TYF11_4-Time_rdr_02.pdf) Workplaces may have to face their responsibility here for driving such health risks and the individual coming to coaching may have such an environment to cope with.
What if we both personally, and as a family, a workplace, or of friendship circle, went from time famine to “time affluence”? What if we coached for a shift in perspective and consciousness, not just more and more “management” experiments?
Can you remember times when you had all the time you needed, even surplus time? It may have been during the summer in childhood. It may have been the prime motivator for traveling to another country where there is greater time affluence. The appeal of vacation destinations like Italy, Mexico or Ireland often rests largely in their more laid-back pace of life. Our challenge is not scheduling more vacations; it’s changing our thinking about time and creating norms that embrace a more conscious pace of life. Feeling time affluent can be incredibly empowering and lead, according to researchers, to greater health and personal happiness. “Time affluence, it appears, has real benefits in our lives. If time famine can create a state of rolling personal crisis, studies have shown that feeling “time affluent” can be powerfully uplifting, more so than material wealth, improving not only personal happiness, but even physical health and civic involvement.” (http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2012/09/08/how-make-time-expand/26nkSfyQPEetCXXoFeZEZM/story.html#) However, becoming time affluent is not the same as financial affluence. “Time-poor people report being more stressed and less satisfied with their lives, and even money doesn’t appear to help. Figures from Gallup suggest that wealth has an inverse relationship with time famine. “The more cash-rich working Americans are,” a 2011 Gallup report on time concluded, “the more time-poor they feel.” (http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2012/09/08/how-make-time-expand/26nkSfyQPEetCXXoFeZEZM/story.html#)
Coaching For Time Affluence
So, what are some quick ways to coach a shift in our perception of time and slow our lives down to an optimally healthy speed?
First, change our language about time. What would happen if you took the thought “I don’t have time to…” and changed it to “This is not a priority for me.” It might be tough to admit to yourself, but then again, it might cause you to reevaluate the way you think of your time and that particular item. How would it feel to say “My wellbeing is not a priority.”? Sure there are times when the situation demands that your own wellbeing might need to be temporarily set aside, but how chronic is this pattern? Are you saying “I don’t have time for me!” far too often?
A second idea is to begin to live your life with greater mindfulness about your daily experience. Tune in to what you are doing in the present moment and see if it is something you want to savor. Sunsets, bird song in the morning, the graceful movement of a child, the taste of fresh lemonade can slow us down to the speed of now and the relaxation and balance that comes with it. This is where “mindful eating” and such approaches can fit in nicely.
Giving It Away (Giving to/doing for others)
Counterintuitive as it may sound, but researchers have found, much to even their surprise, that when people help others, donate their time, they actually feel like they have more of it! Feeling useful and effective in such acts seems to create the feeling of an expansion of the time we have. People who gave more freely of their time for others actually engaged in more self-care activities as well.(http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2012/09/08/how-make-time-expand/26nkSfyQPEetCXXoFeZEZM/story.html#)
Full Of Awe Not Awful
When people experience awe, time seems to also expand. Even tiny doses such as visualizing an inspiring scene in nature, watching a video of such, writing about a personal experience of awe or happiness, etc. can bring a momentary boost of in life satisfaction, and increase the perception of time availability. So, as coaches work with clients around relaxation practices we might want to include such guided visualization. The work we do with helping the client to create their “Well Life Vision” may serve not only as a destination for our wellness plan, but also as a source of time expansion as we settle in to visualizing that ideal way of living and see ourselves there experiencing it!
In further posts we’ll take a further look at the “Slow Movement” and additional ways to become more time affluent.